you can’t skip the first step

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
-CS Lewis.

One of the things that bugs me most about many modern stories is that they often depict talent, and a sign of talent, as being able to do something perfect on the first try.

The simple fact is that it’s wrong. Oh sure, a person with talent will produce something of higher quality than someone without on the first try, but that product will still be inferior compared to itself after multiple refinements.

I only say this because in defiance of the old adage, it seems like I regularly come across folks today who can’t tell this fiction from the reality. Thus I watch kids try something, and if they don’t ace it on the first try, they assume they’re no good at it and give up.

Meditating on this, I came to the realization that art requires… humility.

The number one rule of every piece of art ever made is simple: Make it as great as it can possibly be.

But in order to follow that rule, you have to have the humility to forget yourself, to focus only on the crafting. This means forgetting about whether what you’re making will be amazing or world-famous or have a fanbase, and it especially means not worrying about whether you’re create something perfect on the first attempt.

Creating art is like exploring a wilderness. Worrying about what other people will think and whether you’re doing everything right or even having a committee work on it is the equivalent of walking a paved and maintained nature trail. Sure it can be nice, but it won’t be exciting, it will be “safe.” Losing yourself in the act of creation is like taking off into an untouched wilderness, or landing on an unexplored island. It won’t be tame, it won’t be refined. But it will be exciting and memorable.

That’s why we call it a rough draft.

Nobody can avoid it. If you think you can go from blank page to finished perfection, you’ll never get anything written. I mean I’ve read a rough draft story from someone I’m a personal fan of and consider one of the best living writers around. Know what? It still had spelling errors! And plot hiccups! This doesn’t make them any less of a writer, but it’s the refinement and polishing that makes them one of the greats.

And that humility must be maintained when the revisions and polishing starts. If you’re doing it right, it’s a painful process. It can feel insulting, like horrible blows to the ego – but again, the art is not about you, it’s about Making it as great as it can possibly be. And if you keep that rule in mind, the polishing becomes more bearable.

So get out there and create and create some more. Don’t worry about the critics – that’s what later steps in the process is for. This first step is all about letting your imagination run wild, about forgetting yourself for just a moment. Get out there and explore.

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